Kusherie (Egyptian Rice and Lentils)
Several years ago my family made a commitment to eat weekly rice dinners during Lent. Instead of a normal weeknight dinner, on Wednesday evenings we ate plain rice. Water, salt, rice. Nothing else. Rice is inexpensive and simple to prepare. It is a staple. In some places in the world it is the only food available. As we ate we discussed the significance of the meal. We also cut down on time spent planning, preparing and cleaning up from this simple meal. Then we took the money we had saved on that dinner and put it aside to share with the needy.
At that time all of my children lived at home and we ate dinner together on Wednesday evenings. They were enthusiastic about our rice dinners at first but soon the blandness of the meal began to dull their good humor. After a few weeks we discussed ways that we might make the dinner more palatable. They liked the rice better when it was cooked in a savory stock than when it was just cooked in water, but of course, that gave us less money to set aside for the needy. Other times we cooked some vegetables with the rice but that added to clean up as well as cost.
All in all I thought the rice dinners were a good lesson. I had hoped to make them a weekly part of Lent again this year but circumstances got in the way. This year it was hard to find a weeknight when my family was home to eat together. With our current schedules it just didn't work out as a mindful family practice. Reluctantly, I let it go.
Then, last week, I had the opportunity to hear Marva Dawn speak on Generosity as a Lenten Discipline. This talk encompassed the same ideas as our rice dinners but took the idea a few steps farther. Marva Dawn pointed to something every child seems to know without question - that to divide or share really means to break something in half and give one of those halves away. With that in mind she challenged us to share with those in need by cutting our grocery budget in half and giving the other half to the hungry. Wow! That’s some challenge. It struck a chord in my thinking and seemed to not only build upon the ideas I had in mind for Lent but to make them more personal.
In thinking about my grocery budget this week, I have to say I’m not at all sure that I could do it but the challenge has inspired me to ask some important questions. What do I need? What can I do without? What can I change to make such giving possible? Can I eat more simply? Would eating simpler less expensive food make me feel deprived? Would preparing my food more simply leave more time and resources for other things of value?
In the face of world hunger it is easy to wonder whether or not our small contribution, in the form of a few dollars a week saved by eating a simple rice dinner, or even half of our grocery budget generously shared, will really make a difference in the world. In a great cookbook I have had for many years, "More-with-Less Cookbook: suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources" by Doris Janzen Longacre, in the chapter titled “Change-an Act of Faith,” the author reminds us that “we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” It challenges us, not so much to do without, but to live more creatively with what we need… and in the process find more that we can share with others. It challenges us to a practice of abundant generosity.
This cookbook also reminds us of the story of the loaves and fishes in Matthew 14. In this story five thousand men, plus women and children, are hungry and need to be fed. Jesus tells his disciples to feed the people. Not understanding how they will do this, they search the crowd for food. What they find is one child, a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. These he offered. Then Jesus blessed what was offered, and broke it. When it was distributed all who were in need had enough with more left over. Doris Janzen Longacre points out that “Their act of faith was to share and let God take responsibility for the rest."
So, as this Lent draws to a close, why not strive to cultivate a childlike view? When you have something that nourishes you, in body, mind or spirit, consider breaking it in half and passing it around. You just might find that even more comes back to you.
Perhaps my favorite recipe in the "More-with-Less Cookbook" is Kusherie (or Kushari, or Egyptian Rice and Lentils). It is a variation on the idea of a rice dinner and, despite the long list of ingredients, it is a fairly basic recipe using many common pantry items. It is also fairly easy to prepare.
Lentils and Rice:
2 teaspoons oil
1 1/4 cups lentils
3 cups boiling vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups rice
1 cup boiling vegetable stock
Heat the oil in a 3 - 4 quart saucepan or covered skillet. Add the lentils and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until browned. (Approximately 5 minutes.)
Remove from heat and let the pan cool slightly. (This will avoid a massive reaction when the stock is added.)
Return to heat. Add 3 cups of boiling stock (or water if desired, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper). Cook uncovered, over medium heat, for 10 minutes.
Stir in the rice and additional cup of stock (or water). Return to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
3 cups pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or crushed chilis to taste
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 -30 minutes.
1 tablespoon oil
3 onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
Heat the oil in a skillet. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat until browned.
To serve Kusherie, put the rice and lentils on a plate or in a bowl. Spoon the tomato sauce over the rice and lentils and top with browned onions.
Note: The tomato sauce is very good and makes the recipe vegan. If your diet is not vegan, another option is to replace the tomato sauce with plain yogurt. Simply spoon the plain yogurt over the rice and lentils and top with browned onions, as pictured at the top of this post. Enjoy!
The Nourishing Gourmet is sponsoring a Nourishing Frugal Food Carnival. I admire the idea and think this recipe for Kusherie is a good example of a simple and nourishing main dish that is both frugal and appealing. Check out the Frugal Food Carnival for some more great ideas for nutritious recipes that aren't hard on your food budget.